Review By David Vernier,ClassicsToday.com,March 2007
German-born Simon Mayr received his musical training in Italy (he’s also properly known by his Italian name Giovanni Simone Mayr), and that’s where he spent his career writing both operas and sacred vocal music at the cathedral of Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo. One thing’s clear about this composer/teacher/choir master: he knew his Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven, and if you like their sacred and theatrical music, you’ll enjoy this program featuring two delightful cantatas. L’Armonia, an extended (45-minute) near-opera with three scenes, characters, choruses, virtuoso arias, and well-developed recitatives, was presented on the occasion of a state visit to Bergamo in 1825 by the Emperor Franz I and his entourage. It contains all the conventions
But rather than being tedious and predictable, Mayr treats us to some very appealing, expertly crafted music that handily combines some dramatic and very demanding Mozartian opera-style arias—beautifully sung by all three soloists—with choruses right out of the church works of Mozart and Haydn. The pacing is swift and conductor Franz Hauk keeps his forces tightly together most of the time—some ragged instrumental ensemble and choral intonation slips are only occasionally noticeable. Mayr also cleverly uses a harp at opportune moments to add color and for symbolic reference to the Bards, which are among the cantata’s “characters”.
And speaking of references, if you know Beethoven, you’ll have fun picking out Mayr’s nifty insertions of excerpts from some of the master’s works in the Cantata for the Death of Beethoven. This 15-minute piece was basically cobbled together from original material and from existing works, and again, it’s a very satisfying listen marked by strong vocal writing for the soloists and stylish orchestration. Once more I do have to mention the solo singers—soprano Talia Or, tenor Altin Piriù, and bass Nikolay Borchev—all first class and very solid in some very challenging music. They have a lot to do here, and they really carry the show. A pleasant surprise!